Emperor (PG-13) (105 min.) — The affected voice, sounding like some privileged academic, is jarring at first since Tommy Lee Jones doesn't usually fool with accents. But donning aviator sunglasses and jamming a corncob pipe in his mouth completes Jones' impression of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in a movie needing more scenes with him doing it.
"Let's show them some good old-fashioned American swagger," Jones declares as MacArthur prepares to step onto Japanese soil, soon after the atomic end of World War II. Jones does just that, playing a military icon as ornery and inflexible as the actor seems to be in real life. Appointed supreme commander of the reconstruction of Japan, MacArthur starts rounding up war criminals, putting them on trial and possibly executing them.
The main question is: Was Emperor Hirohito — considered a demigod by Japan's citizens — involved with plotting Pearl Harbor or prolonging the war? Executing a cultural deity could irreparably damage relations between the nations. Letting him live could spoil MacArthur's dream of being elected president of a country wanting revenge.
Unfortunately, MacArthur — and Peter Webber's movie — delegates this investigation to a general and an actor playing him who aren't as interesting as Jones. Matthew Fox plays Gen. Bonner Fellers, who possibly compromises the investigation and certainly the movie through romantic feelings for a Japanese woman (Eriko Hatsune). We get a lot of lovely flashbacks to prewar flirting, and Fellers splitting time between searching for her and discussing the case in voiceovers, but we'd prefer to know what MacArthur thinks. It happens once in a while but not enough until the final reel.
Emperor is also one of those movies in which the most intriguing occurrences are revealed by "what-happened-to . . ." title cards at the finale. A movie about MacArthur's career-ending feud with President Harry Truman would crackle, perhaps with Gary Sinise reprising Truman opposite Jones. Fellers was reportedly demoted, yet without any reason the movie bothers to describe. Hirohito lived to old age but at what price of shame or guilt? Those stories would require some good old-fashioned American swagger, but Webber isn't up for it. B- (Veterans 24 in Tampa, Woodland Square 20 in Oldsmar, BayWalk 20 in St. Petersburg)
Steve Persall, Times movie critic